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Most grand slams seem to end with Serena Williams lifting the trophy, but with the American this time injured, new world number one Kim Clijsters enjoys top seeding at Flushing Meadows. The trouble is that she's never won a grand slam, unlike Justine Henin and Serena's sister Venus, writes Grégory Lanzenberg.

US OPEN: Agassi, Clijsters top seeds
Take the 7 train to Flushing

With defending U.S.Open champion Serena sitting in the stands due to her recent knee surgery, a variety of home-grown Americans and foreign candidates have equal footing in a women's draw more wide open than it's been in a long while.

Clijsters has her eyes focused on losing the unpopular distinction of 'best player without a major championship.'

But 2003 French Open champion, Justine Henin-Hardenne has a great harcourt season and then there's Venus Williams, who has not won a major title since she defeated her younger sister in the final of the 2001 US Open. Venus, also hobbled by injuries, must prove to the rest of the draw -- and herself -- that she can overcome physical obstacles.

The Frontrunners:

Justine Henin-Hardenne - A year after she last played at the US Open, the No. 3 player in the world has added two new credentials: a longer name after her off-season marriage, and the title of Grand Slam champion.

After her win at Roland Garros, the fast changeover from clay to grass proved too much for Henin-Hardenne who lost soundly to Serena Williams at Wimbledon.

But Henin-Hardenne has rebounded on the hard-court circuit, with a title win over Clijsters in San Diego and another over Krasnoroutskaya in Toronto.

Henin has also managed her schedule, shying away from more than two tournaments in a row as she enters the New York fortnight mentally and physically fresh.

Still, it's not clear how the Belgian will fare on the quickest Grand Slam surface, the DecoTurf 2 at the USTA National Tennis Center.

For all the success Henin-Hardenne has garnered as a master of all surfaces, she has never advanced past the fourth round of the US Open, losing in the fourth round to Daniela Hantuchova in 2002.

But the bigger question surrounding the French Open champion will be what kind of reception she receives from the crowd in New York after her controversial match against Serena in Paris.

Before a critical point in the third set of their semi-final, with Serena about to serve, Henin-Hardenne raised a hand to call for time. Combined with the raucous crowd, Serena missed the serve and was penalized without being granted a do-over. Serena never recovered, and the win boosted Henin-Hardenne to her first major title.

Venus Williams - If Venus is over her abdominal injury, a setback which prevented her from seriously challenging Serena in the final at Wimbledon, watch out for her!

The absence of Serena should work to Venus' advantage. A finalist at the US Open in 2002, it is Serena who has lulled Venus into a championship drought.

The two-time US Open champion (2000, defeating Lindsay Davenport, and 2001, defeating Serena) has been to the final four times and with a sparkling 35-4 career singles record (.900 winning percentage) at the US Open, don't rule out the 23 -year old American.

Even though she hasn't played since Wimbledon, fourth seed Venus may well be the real No. 2 women's contender.

Kim Clijsters - A model of proper sportsmanship and consistency, fans of Clijsters are growing impatient for her to take the final step in her progression as a player by winning her first Grand Slam title.

With the recent ascension of Henin-Hardenne and the championship stranglehold by the Williams sisters, Clijsters holds the mantle of being the best player on tour never to have won a major.

On the other hand, counting out last week's only hiccup of the season against Russia's Lina Krasnoroutskaya, Clijsters is the only one to have reached at least the semi-finals at each tournament entered in 2003.

The winner of the 2002 season-ending WTA Championships has fared honourably in grand slams this year with a semi-final loss to Serena at the Australian Open, a final loss to Henin-Hardenne at the French Open, and a semi-final loss to Venus at Wimbledon.

The No. 7 seed at the 2002 US Open, Clijsters lost in three sets to No. 10 Amelie Mauresmo of France in the fourth round. Her best result is a quarterfinal appearance in 2001.

Clijsters' big blind spot are the Williams sisters. She has defeated Henin-Hardenne and Lindsay Davenport three times each and Capriati once, but against Serena and Venus, Clijsters is a combined 0-4 in 2003.

The Contenders

Jennifer Capriati - As the Williams sisters and the Belgians have risen so has gradually slipped Capriati's ranking.

The sixth seed at Flushing has been unable to close out three-set matches against the top five players in the world.

The three-time Grand Slam champion is the only player ranked in the women's top 10 not to have won a tournament in 2003. The last tournament that Capriati won was the 2002 Australian Open, where she was the No.1 seed and didn't have to play either Williams sister.

A real fan favorite in New York, Capriati has enjoyed the US Open as a home away from home. Every match she plays is standing room only.

Currently ranked No. 7 in the world, Capriati now needs to use the crowd to win a close battle against Henin, Clijsters or Venus.

Lindsay Davenport - The 1998 US Open champion has reached at least the quarterfinals at Flushing every year since 1996. That's maybe why the American has been seeded third this time around.

Plagued in her hall-of-fame career by injuries to her wrist, back, knees and, now, a pinched nerve in her toe, Davenport has said that it will require an operation to remove the nerve at some point later this year and if so she might consider to retire.

Playing a fairly limited schedule leading up to the US Open could prove beneficial to Davenport.

Amelie Mauresmo - The weight of trying to win a championship for a Grand Slam-starved nation like France can take its toll on a player, just ask Mauresmo. The star Frenchwoman lost to Serena Williams during the last French Open, 6-1, 6-2, but without the pressure of the home crowd, the hard-hitting fifth seed has all to play for.

After the crushing letdown in front of her home fans in Paris, Mauresmo tore a rib muscle at the Ordina Open in the Netherlands just before the start of Wimbledon, forcing a late withdrawal.

To date, she is the only player in 2003 to have defeated both Serena and Venus Williams. In May, Mauresmo clipped Serena in the semi-finals in Rome, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. A month earlier, she took the Warsaw tournament after Venus came down with her now-famous abdominal injury in the final.

Mauresmo also holds the distinction of being Capriati's worst nightmare - the Frenchwoman has beaten the American four straight times, including in the quarterfinals of the 2002 US Open, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3.

Chanda Rubin - Many people thought that Wimbledon would be the breakthrough Grand Slam for Rubin, who was coming off an impressive win in Eastbourne on grass. One of the classiest players on the women's tour, the eighth seed going into Flushing has dealt with countless injuries that took away from her success as a younger player.

Now a cagey veteran who excels in both singles and doubles, Rubin is a worthy adversary capable of beating any top 25 player. Rubin's serve is world class, her strokes strong, deep and accurate, and her tennis IQ unparalleled.

The Russians - True, U.S. Open seventh seed Anastasia Myskina has yet to advance past the quarter-finals of a grand slam, but the Russian's form continues to improve.

And she's not alone.

11th seed Elena Dementieva, 13th seed Vera Zvonareva, and 16th seed Elena Bovina top the phenomenal list of Russian talents capable of striking at any time as 26th seed Krasnoroutskaya proved last week in Toronto.

Pay particular attention to Zvonareva who enjoyed her coming-out party at the French Open, with an upset of Venus Williams. After knocking out French Open darling Ashley Harkleroad with relative ease in the first round at Wimbledon, Sharapova, the shrieking, stunning Russian sensation, she then took London by storm, defeating Jelena Dokic in the third round before losing to another Russian sensation, 27th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 16, in the fourth round.

Russian revolution? They're fielding seven of the top 32 at Flushing, equalling the number of American seeds.

280 Posts
Go Justine, after the French, The US: Alleeeeez

47,654 Posts
Funny how everybody names Kim after Juju and not before,huh?! So much for being no.1!! :lol:

And is the author said: If Venus is healthy....WATCH OUT!!
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